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Blue Origin suing NASA over Moon lander contract

A rendering of the National Team lander design, which is being built by Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Lockheed Martin and Draper. Credit: Blue Origin

A rendering of the National Team lander design, which is being built by Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Lockheed Martin and Draper. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin has taken legal action against NASA in federal court over the agency’s decision to award SpaceX a sole contract to build the agency’s Human Landing System as part of the Artemis program.

Dynetics, SpaceX and Blue Origin had all placed bids for the Moon lander contract, a crucial part of NASA’s plan for returning humans to the Moon.

A rendering of SpaceX's Lunar Starship Human Landing System. Credit: SpaceX

A rendering of SpaceX’s Lunar Starship Human Landing System. Credit: SpaceX

During the initial phase of the selection process, which lasted from April 2020 to April 2021, the three companies were collectively awarded roughly $1 billion to develop their proposals. SpaceX received $135 million, Dynetics received $253 million and Blue Origin received $579 million. Blue Origin is the lead company for the “National Team,” which also includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

Only SpaceX was awarded a contract in April 2021. It was a fixed-firm price contract worth about $2.9 billion.

A few days after the award, Blue Origin, along with Dynetics, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan “congressional watchdog” agency. After months of review, that protest was rejected on July 30.

After a review by the GAO of the contract awarded to SpaceX by NASA, the oversight committee concluded in a 76-page decision that the space agency was well within its rights to make only a single award. It was made clear in the “Option A” solicitation that the U.S. space agency could also make multiple awards, or none at all.

For its part, Dynetics said that while it was disappointed, it would respect the GAO’s determination.

Then on Aug. 13, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit, the details of which are not public at this time as they are sealed under a protective order that was granted on Aug. 16. This lawsuit “challenges NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals submitted under the HLS Option A BAA,” or broad agency announcement, the company said in the motion to seal filings, as reported by SpaceNews.

A fully-stacked Starship. Credit: SpaceX

A fully-stacked Starship. A lunar variant of the Ship section is planned to be used as SpaceX’s Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program. Credit: SpaceX

Blue Origin said in a statement over the GAO decision ahead of its Aug. 13 filing that while the GAO upholds NASA’s desire for multiple awards, the company says the report found “significant issues with how NASA conducted this procurement process” for the Human Landing System.

“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” the company said in a statement to CNBC, which first reported the lawsuit. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

Days before the GAO decision, company founder Jeff Bezos wrote in an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson urging the space agency to restore competition to the Human Landing System program and that the company is offering to waive “all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years” up to $2 billion in order to “get the program back on track.”

Bezos said the company would, at its own cost, contribute to the development of a low-Earth orbit pathfinder in order to retire risk and that it would accept a fixed-price contract for its lander and cover any cost overruns.

In the days after the GAO decision, Blue Origin released two infographics that compare SpaceX’s Human Landing System design with its own. The first criticized the distance to the surface astronauts would have to traverse after landing.

A second highlighted the amount of refueling missions required to get SpaceX’s Human Landing System to the Moon using its Starship design, citing both NASA’s selection statement and the proposal highlighted in the July 30 GAO report.

Infographic Credit: Blue Origin

Infographic Credit: Blue Origin

Infographic Credit: Blue Origin

Infographic Credit: Blue Origin


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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